Tuesday, January 31, 2017

MLB acts (finally) on the big hack

I had pretty much forgotten that we were still waiting for whatever sanction Commissioner Rob Manfred was going to drop on the St. Louis Cardinals for hacking into the Houston Astros data base of scouting reports, evaluations and draft planning.

The federal court last week unsealed much of the information from the criminal case against Christopher Correa, the former Cardinals scouting director who did the hacking. And with that information in hand, Manfred finally acted Monday.

The punishment levied on the organization is noteworthy but not overwhelming. The Cardinals lose their top two remaining picks in the 2017 draft (second round, 56th overall, and a compensation second rounder, 75th overall), and they've been ordered to pay the Astros $2 million. which ,,, well, that's a lot to you and me, but not enough to pay a veteran relief pitcher.

As one of the Baseball America scribes said on Twitter, the Red Sox got slapped harder by Manfred for playing fast and loose with the rules regarding international bonuses.

Which brings to mind a concern I voiced early on in this scandal: The St. Louis owners were very much in Manfred's corner when he was chosen to follow Bud Selig as commissioner. The Red Sox ownership was the most obvious opponent. Manfred's actions carry the possibility of being influenced by internal politics.

Certainly the punishment levied on the Cardinals is not so stout as to give a corrupt front office the willies. But the fact that Correa is serving 46 months in a federal prison might. (Correa is permanantly banned from working in baseball.)

Monday, January 30, 2017

Contemplating Glen Perkins

Two concepts that seem difficult for some to hold simultaneously:

  • Glen Perkins' rehab from his shoulder surgery is proceeding as scheduled, with no setbacks;
  • Glen Perkins may open the 2017 season on the disabled list.

The word out of TwinsFest during the weekend: Perkins,who has spent much of January in Fort Myers, is throwing balls 120 feet at about 75 percent effort. He has not thrown off a mound yet, but expects to do so before training camp officially opens. 

Perkins, via the Pioneer Press's Mike Berardino:  “It’s going to be down to the finish line at the end of spring training whether I’m ready or not.” And: "I’ve been able to check every box. Every day, whatever was scheduled that day, I’ve been able to do.

Obviously, we'll see in the coming weeks if those last two sentences remain true as more is scheduled.

I've said this before: The Twins should not be expecting the All-Star Perkins this year. Indeed, if last summer's surgery involved reattaching his labrum (as reported in this piece from Derek Wetmore of ESPN 1500). just getting back to a major league mound would be impressive. Shoulders are difficult.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Sunday Funnies

Early in his managerial career, Casey Stengel had a theatrical move he'd deploy when arguing with an umpire: He'd fall to the ground in a mock faint.

That ended when he tried it on veteran umpire Beans Reardon. Reardon watched Stengel collapse, then did the same.

Stengel, telling the story in years to come, recounted: "When I peeked over and saw Reardon on the ground, I knew I was licked."

Saturday, January 28, 2017

End of an era

The Twins announced Friday that they have commissioned a Target Field statue of former manager Tom Kelly. This may be the grouch in me speaking, but someday they will have the plaza so cluttered with bronze sculptures that it will be impossible to get to the park.

More significant, truly, is another item about TK: He's not going to take part in spring training this year. He says his knees and Achilles were hurting last year, and he's pulling back. He was there last spring after recovering from a stroke, so the health issues are presumably mounting.

Kelly's 66 now, which seems astounding to those of us who remember when he was hired as the Twins manager in 1986. He was 35 then, and younger than three pitchers on his 1987 squad (Bert Blyleven, Joe Niekro and Steve Carlton). But time marches on.

I go to Fort Myers in even-numbered years, so I won't be there, but I know habitual attendees of camp will notice the absence of Kelly and his fungo bat. Major league side or minor league side, he's been an ever-present teacher and presence.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

Most prominent news nugget tweeted out of the Diamond Awards ceremony held Thursday night by the Twin Cities chapter of the BBWAA: Rod Carew, who had a heart/kidney double transplant a bit more than a month ago, may be released from the hospital today.

I haven't any idea if Sir Rodney will be able to make his annual spring training gig this year. He wasn't supposed to last year and showed up anyway. Whether he gets to Fort Myers or not, his continued recovery is devoutly desired.


The Twins, as we know, have the first pick in next June's amateur draft. They also, as should be expected, have the largest draft pool, according to Baseball America: just under $13.5 million.

The new labor deal changes the draft pool formula, bringing teams closer together and reducing the amounts alloted to the top picks; this is expected to limit the incentive for teams to "tank" in search of maximum flexibility.

The Twins have the first, 35th and 37th overall picks.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Lots of unsigned players left

Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports posted this piece last night: A 25-man roster of current veteran free agents, three weeks before camps open.

The collective WAR suggests that if one were to actually assemble this squad it would compile a record similar to that of the 2016 Twins. I doubt that would be the case, partly because there's no actual shortstop or centerfielder on his All-Unemployed team (although one could argue that there's no actual shortstop on the Twins roster either).

From my perspective, the most interesting names in this piece as possible additions for the Twins are the bullpen guys, and specifically David Hernandez, who had a couple of solid seasons for Arizona before an injury and Tommy John surgery.

I don't know that I'd want to shove Tyler Duffey or Trevor May aside for any of the free agent starting pitchers listed by Passan, and the best hitters on Passan's list are limited defensively to positions the Twins are well stocked at with younger players.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Kurt Suzuki finds a team

It took him until late January, but former Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki finally landed after weeks of floating in free agency.

The signing isn't yet official, but he has reportedly agreed to a $3 million deal with the Atlanta Braves. That would be a 50 percent pay cut from what he got the last two seasons with the Twins, and presumably comes with less playing time as well.

The Braves currently have three catchers on their 40-man roster, which is a faily high number -- and to the number of outfielders they have listed. It's a rather odd roster in that regard.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Dodgers trade for a second baseman, and it's not Brian Dozier

The Los Angeles Dodgers traded prospect pitcher Jose DeLeon to the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday for infielder Logan Forsythe.

This puts complete fini to the speculation that the Dodgers would deal for the Twins' Brian Dozier. Not only do the Dodgers now have Forsythe to plug into second base, but DeLeon -- who was supposedly to be the key (or, perhaps, only) return for the Twins -- is gone.

Nobody on the outside can be completely sure what the asks in the Dodgers-Twins talks were, but supposedly the Dodgers were insistent that it be one-for-one. That's what they wound up with for Forsythe. And Forsythe, while a decent infielder with some pop in his bat, isn't nearly the player Dozier is.

The Twins correctly wanted more than DeLeon, who has never thrown as many as 115 innings in a season, for Dozier. If that's all the Dodgers would offer, the Twins were right to walk away. The Dodgers wound up with a lesser player, but gave up less than they would have to get the better one. They may have been right to stand their ground too.

Bottom line: Unless something is going on below the surface, Dozier is going to be a Twin in 2017. That is not, repeat not, a disaster.

Monday, January 23, 2017

RIP, Ventura and Marte

Yordano Ventura before pitching Game 3 of the
2015 World Series.
Two ballplayers from the Dominican died this weekend in separate crashes in their homeland. According to the Associated Press, the Dominican Republic has the second-highest traffic death rate in the world.

There are a lot of major leaguers (and minor leaguers) from the Dominican, and the deaths of Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte are just the most recent evidence that ballplayers are not immune to this Dominican carnage.

Andy Marte was a failed prospect but still playing, still hoping to hit it big. He spent 2016 in the Korean League, where he hit 22 homers but batted just .265. Ten years ago, he was a coming attraction; Baseball America rated him as the No. 14 prospect after the 2005 season, No. 9 the year before that, No. 11 the winter before that. But sometimes even the most highly touted prospects fail.

Yordano Ventura had a magic arm -- the Kansas City Royals starter averaged better than 96 mph on his fastball last season, according to the Bill James Handbook, the highest velocity among American League starters. He also had a scary temper, with multiple suspensions for throwing at hitters.

He was a decent starter in his four major league seasons, but not a great one. He might have become great, with luck and maturity -- he needed both to stay healthy and learn to control his emotions -- but he wasn't there yet, and now he never will be.

As with the Miami Marlins and the late-season death of Jose Fernandez in a boating accident, Ventura's death leaves the Royals reeling, both emotionally and strategically.

Viewed from a distance, the team was nearing a crossroads, with key pieces of the lineup approaching free agency and a farm system essentially depleated by the win-now trades that helped bring the 2015 World Series title. Ventura was supposed to be a key piece of their puzzle for a few more years. Now, less than a month before training camps open, they not only have a hole at the top of their rotation for the coming season, but one for years to come.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Sunday Funnies

This supposedly happened sometime in the late 1980s in San Diego. The Montreal Expos had lumbering catcher Nelson Santovenia on third base and pitcher Pasqual Perez at the plate.

For reasons unknown, manager Buck Rogers called for the suicide squeeze. For reasons unknown, the always unpredicatable Perez took a full hack -- and fouled it off with Santovenia fearing for his life.

Rogers called for the squeeze again. And again Perez takes a full swing in the face of a panicked Santovenia.

As told by reporter Michael Farber:

"I asked Santovenia about it afterward. 'I'm screaming at him, in Spanish, SQUEEZE!' So I asked him, what's the Spanish word for squeeze?"

"He looked at me and shook his head. 'Squeeze.'"

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Contemplating Ryan Pressly

Former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was known for his verbal tics -- stock phrases that he used so frequently that they essentially became meaningless, at least to a lot of fans. "Get after it." "Hustle their tails off." "The ball comes out of his hand real good."

One of the underrated ones was "spin it." As in, "He can spin it," meaning throw a quality breaking ball. I remember a Gardenhire monologue after a lefty specialist named Randy Flores was brought in and threw fast balls to a left-handed hitter, who got a crucial hit. Gardenhire's rant was to the effect that if he wanted fast balls thrown to that guy, he'd have left the righty in, and Flores needed to "spin it." (As I recall, Flores never got the ball again in a game situtation.)

Well ... with the advent of Statcast, we now have objective data on pitch spin. As a general rule, the higher the spin rate, the better -- spin creates friction with the air and thus makes the pitch move, and more friction means more movement.

And Ryan Pressly has impressive spin rates. Rhett Bollinger of MLB,com posted this piece earlier this week noting that Pressly's average spin rate ranks eighth among MLB pitchers (he didn't say what the minimum innings or pitches for that ranking would be).
That suggests that Pressly has the talent to be a successful reliever. So far, he hasn't really had the results -- a 3.70 ERA isn't what you expect from a short man with dominating stuff. 

Bollinger says Pressly expects to increase the use of his slider this year, probably by decreasing his curve. It may make sense for him to pick one breaking ball and stick with it; few pitchers throw both the curve and the slider with proficency. Pressly himself cites command glitches as a problem, and I suspect Neil Allen, the pitching coach, would agree. 

Basic point: Pressly isn't an outstanding reliever now. But he has the stuff to be one. And this is a bullpen that certainly has room for somebody to emerge.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Jorge Posada and the 10-player limit

Jorge Posada didn't draw the magical 5 percent of the vote from the writers, so he's off the Hall of Fame ballot for future elections.

This is unfortunate. Posada is, in truth, a highly qualified candidate. But he's hardly the only such to be one-and-done with the writers. So too were Kenny Lofton and Jim Edmonds; Bernie Williams got only two turns on the writer's ballot. And that's just three center fielders.

There are a couple of issues involved here:

  • The oversupply of highly qualified candidates on the ballot and
  • The 10-player limit for the writers.

Not every voter fills out the 10 slots, but far more do now than were even five years ago, in part because five years ago the writers weren't electing anybody, and there was beginning to be a sense that some other means of selecting inductees would be needed. More writers voting for 10, or even eight, candidates instead of two or three means more opportunity for players to get elected -- or even to stay on the ballot.

Ten slots for a ballot with 34 names (as was the case this year) sounds ample, but a goodly number of writers said they saw 17, or 18, players worthy of strong consideration for those slots. Posada may have been No. 15 on somebody's list, and thus left off, but that doesn't mean they thought him unworthy of a vote -- just less worthy than 10 others.

Abolishing, or at least raising, the limit has been proposed repeatedly and gone nowhere. I suppose the downside to easing the restriction is encouraging frivolous votes, like the one vote Tim Wakefield got this year. But I would be willing to bet the frivolous votes (and there are a handful every year) come from voters who (a) don't fill all 10 slots anyway and (b) will stop casting them when the votes are made public, as will be the case beginning next year.

And the benefit of making it easier for the likes of Posada and Edmonds to stick on the ballot a few more years seems to outweigh the drawback.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Three for Cooperstown


The writers made a small dent in the growing backlog of obviously qualified Hall of Fame candidates, electing Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez.

It was quickly noted that the writers have now chosen 12 players in four years, matching the Hall's first four years for the most selections. But it's also the first time in those four years that the majority of selectees were not first-time ballotteers.

Still, one probably should not be churlish about this year's outcome. Bagwell and Raines are in, as they should be, and the plaques will not note the delays.

And Rodriguez becomes only the second catcher ever elected on the first ballot. His election was closer than it should have been, but (again) the plaque won't mention that.

There is another wave of qualfied -- even over-qualified -- candidates slated to hit the ballot next winter, with Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Andruw Jones and -- his continuing comeback ambitions not withstanding -- Johan Santana, among others. Even with Raines and Bagwell off the backlist, it's still going to be a crowded ballot.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A bullpen overview

The Twins caravan swung through Mankato on Monday night. Theoretically I could have gone -- Monday is one of my nights off -- but it wasn't really on my radar screen to begin with, and when I tried to walk the dog around 5 p.m. and found the driveway and sidewalk ice-coated from the drizzle, all notion of leaving the house was abandoned.

But about 300 people did show up, including the Free Press' free-lancer Denny Weller, who produced this report.

The players on this leg of the annual promotional journey were relievers Brandon Kintzler and Ryan Pressly, who emerged during the sorry 2016 season as the bullpen arms Paul Molitor most trusted -- which is not to say that they were truly good. Each was, as it turned out, arbitration eligible this year, and each got a nice raise for their veteranness.

We don't know when or to what level Glen Perkins will return from his shoulder surgery. I'm a Perkins fan. as evidenced by my repeated sponsorship of his Baseball Reference page, but I'm not optimistic about his future. Shoulder surgeries are inherently career-threatening, and on the range of outcomes, a return as the 97-mph flamethrower he once was is probably the least likely.

If Perkins is back, that's great and wonderful. But the Twins should wait to see it before they count on him.

And what does a non-Perkins bullpen look like? Presuming Trevor May is in the rotation, this would be a likely outline of six pitchers and roles, at least to open:

Closer: Kintzler
Setup 1: Pressly
Setup 2/LOOGY 1: Taylor Rogers
MR 1: J.T. Chargois
LOOGY 2: Ryan O'Rourke
Long man: Michael Tonkin

I'm not impressed, and you shouldn't be either.

To be sure, there are plenty of contenders for the last four roles, and I doubt that these precise six will all go north for the opener. I hope there will be a genuine long man, not Tonkin's masquarade. But Kintzler and Pressly, with their squatter's rights, will go to Fort Myers penciled into the top two slots. (It's also quite possible tha the Twins will open with a 12-man staff, not the 11 this implies, but they aren't winning or losing games on their 12th pitcher, or shouldn't be.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

It wouldn't happen today

Twins fans of a certain age will probably remember Stan Williams, who pitched out of the bullpen for the Twins in 1970-71. Williams had a big 1970 season -- 10-1, 1.99, 15 saves in 113 innings -- but was less effective in 1971 and was traded to St. Louis in September.

But what I want to talk about came a decade earlier. In 1961, Williams pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and on May 17 he was matched up against the legendary Warren Spahn in the awkward confines of the Los Angeles Colleseum.

Spahn won more games in his career (363) than Williams started (208), but he didn't win this one. Williams and the Dodgers prevailed 2-1 in 11 innings, with Williams going all 11.

An 11-inning start is unlikely enough. But Williams walked 12 men in those 11 innings, and struck out 11. According to Baseball Reference, he threw 208 pitches, 109 strikes (and 99 balls). It must have been excruciating to watch.

He did this two days after throwing two innings of relief against the same Braves, which came two days after a one-inning start against the Cubs. And five days after that 208-pitch outing, he had another extra-inning, 2-1 complete game win, this time at Cincinnati. He only needed 128 pitches in 10 innings that time.

I can already hear Bert Blyeven or Jack Morris jeering: And his arm didn't fall off. True. Also true: No manager today would use a pitcher like that.

Williams had his career high in starts (35) and innings (235) that year. He went five innings or less in 10 of those starts, and was a swingman most of the rest of his career.

The Twins got Williams (and Luis Tiant) in a six-player trade with the Cleveland Indians that is perhaps most noteworthy for the inclusion of Craig Nettles, who had found playing time in Minnesota limited. Once freed from the bench, Nettles became one of the game's better third basemen for more than a decade.

Williams didn't last long after the Twins traded him, but he continued in a sense to matter for a few years in Minnesota. One of the players the Twins got for him from the Cardinals was a minor-leaguer named Dan Ford, who in the mid 70s would be the third piece of one of the franchise's best outfields (Larry Hisle, Lyman Bostock and Ford). But that's another story.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

Slow times in baseball news, so I'll just toss a few recent links your direction and get on with other things in my life:

* Jim Bouton's book Ball Four played a significant role in my becoming a baseball fan almost a half-century ago. The material Bouton and Leonard Shecter used to create that marvelous book -- notes, tape recordings, manuscripts, correspondence -- is being auctioned. Bidding closes Jan. 21.

* The chatter about a Brian Dozier trade to the Dodgers has largely quieted, but I wouldn't call it dead yet. Baseball America's organizations prospect rankings has reached the NL West teams (last division this year), and here's Los Angeles's Top 10 list. I expect that if the Twins do trade Dozier to the Dodgers, three of those names will be involved. The Dodgers are, supposedly, unwilling to include more than one.

* The St. Louis Post-Dispatch tells the story of Seth Maness, relief pitcher and surgical pioneer -- first major leaguer to undergo a surgical alternative to Tommy John surgery. Not every pitcher whose elbow goes south can have this procedure, but the recovery time for those who can figures to be sharply better.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Sunday Funnies

The 1965 World Series pitted the Minnesota Twins (hooray!) against the Los Angeles Dodgers (boo!).

The Dodgers would have started the great Sandy Koufax in the opener, but it was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. So manager Walter Alston started Don Drysdale instead, which is not a bad fallback.

Except that Drysdale didn't fare well that day at the old Met. The Twins scored six runs in the third inning and drove him out of the box, and Minnesota won 8-2.

After the game, the long-retired Hall of Fame pitcher Lefty Gomez stuck his head into Alston's office to say: "Hey, Alston. Bet you wish Drysdale was Jewish too."

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The arbitration guys

Friday was the deadline for teams and arbitration-eligible players to exchange numbers, and as usual it resulted in a downpour of agreements.

The Twins had four arbitration-eligible players -- starting pitchers Kyle Gibson and Hector Santiago and relievers Brandon Kintzler and Ryan Pressly -- and reached agreement with all four.

These deals matter to the players and the front offices. For we fans on the outside, Ryan Pressly's salary is (or should be) a minor detail. Barring trade or injury, he's going to be in the Minnesota bullpen on Opening Day, and whether he gets paid $1.1 million (projected salary) or $1.175 million (reported agreement) won't change that. (An extra $75,000 sounds nice to me, but it's a rounding error in terms of the Twins payroll.)

The arbitration process has been around for decades. I'm old, and I can barely remember the era of the spring training holdout. For a good part of that time, front-office types regularly complained that arbitration unreasonably boosts player pay. Today, I think, it is widely recognized that players in the arbitration process are having their salaries depressed, at least compared to what they would be paid as free agents.

If that weren't the case, teams would be letting more of them go to free agency. But if the Twins nontendered Gibson, somebody would certainly offer him more than the $2.9 million he got in Friday's agreement. Santiago's $8 million is more debatable.

And then there's Trevor Plouffe, nontendered by the Twins early this offseason and recently signed by Oakland. Had he gone through the arbitration process, he probably would have gotten something in the vicinity of $9 million in 2017. Instead, he's apparently to get about 60 percent of that -- which would be very good coin for me, to be sure. That's what his services are deemed worth by a true open market.

But few arbitration-eligibles are turned loose, which tells us that they are still being underpaid.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Adding a catching contender

I said here a few days ago that the Twins would bring in at least one more non-roster invitee catcher, basing that on the slim number of receivers scheduled to be in training camps (five). The guy they signed Thursday is a bit more than another body.

Gimenez is a catcher, not a hitter -- 34 years old, eight years with MLB time, a career high of 155 plate appearances last season, and a lifetime .632 OPS. He has never spent more than two years with the same team. but he's had three different stints with Cleveland (Derek Falvey) and two with Texas (Thad Levine). Last year he was with Cleveland, splitting the catching chores with Roberto Perez after Yan Gomes' injury and serving as the No. 2 catcher in the first round of the playoffs.

It's his links to Falvey and Levine that make me suspect that, even though Gimenez is not on the 40 and John Ryan Murphy and Mitch Garver are, that Gimenez may be the favorite now for the No. 2 role. He's right-handed, which fits the concept of a platoon with the left-handed hitting Jason Castro, and his career splits suggest that he may even be a competent hitter against lefties (.750 OPS, albeit it less than 250 at-bats).

My belief is that Garver and Murphy offer more ability at the plate than Gimenez. But that's not necessarily what Falvey and Levine are looking for in a backup catcher, and neither has proven it yet anyway.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

What special assistants do

The Twins announced Wednesday that LaTroy Hawkins and Torii Hunter would be splitting time in the TV booth as analysts along side play-by-play man Dick Bremer. It's a five-man rotation: Bert Blyleven, Roy Smalley, Jack Morris and now Hunter and Hawkins.

Anything that reduces the exposure we fans get of Blyleven's "analysis"is probably a plus at this stage, but this seems to undermine the idea that Hawkins and Hunter, who were hired earlier in the offseason as special assistants (as was Michael Cuddyer) are to be given serious assignments in player development and scouting.

We'll see how all this plays out, of course. Maybe the broadcasting assignments will be sparse and focused. What I do know if that if Hawkins is doing TV work on a major league road trip through Cleveland and Toronto, he's not going to be in Chattanooga working with prospects or at a college game evaluating a potential draft pick.

It's also possible that some exposure to the broadcast operations is seen as an important part of grooming these two for more significant front office responsibilities.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

From a litle birdie ...

A few Tuesday tweets of note about the Twins:

Not much to see here, I suspect, even if Ryan Vogelsong is a former All-Star. That was back in 2011, when he suddenly emerged as an effective starter with the Giants at age 33. He's 39 now and hasn't good since 2012. Nick Tepesch lacks Vogelsong's track record but is more than a decade younger. He had the same surgery that Phil Hughes is coming back from two years ago.

They'll both be in camp as non-roster invitees. I don't expect much.

When the Twins non-tendered Plouffe early in the offseason, it was said that the veteran third baseman was being given the benefit of an early start on free agency. That it took him well into January to find a landing place suggests that he didn't have much of a market.

I don't know that I would play Plouffe over Ryon Healy at third base, or over Yonder Alonzo or Mark Canha at first. But the A's found more than 500 at-bats for the now-departed Danny Valencia last year. Odd, isn't it, that Plouffe took Valencia's spot when the Twins moved on from him at third base in 2012.

It only takes one phone call to agree to a trade, but I now doubt that Dozier will be dealt this winter. The Twins apparently aren't finding the return they think (and I think) they deserve for him. I gave some reasons why about a week ago.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The (continued) return of (a) Gardenhire

The Twins have hired Toby Gardenhire for a as-yet undefined job in their player-development system.

The son of the team's former big-league manager has had a seasonal role as a coach with the Gulf Coast Twins. Now he'll be full time with the Twins organization. I expect he'll be assigned to one of the full-season affiliates as a coach; there are at least two openings at present with the elevation of Tommy Watkins to a manager's job and the retirement of Jim Dwyer.

There's a part of me that want to shout "nepotism," but the elder Gardenhire no longer works for the Twins, and there's no need for the new regime to curry his favor. The younger Gardenhire's resume includes seven seasons as a player at every level of the Twins farm system and every position except center field and five years as a college head coach (Wisconsin-Stout).

Maybe his last name got him some of that experience, but he's got it.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Power up the middle

A noteworthy piece for Baseball America on the increasing importance of power in baseball.

According to Matt Eddy, the league-average shortstop hits 13 homers in the current game. That certainly wasn't the case back in my early fandom, when teams -- even good to great teams -- routinely sported punchless shortstops and second basemen whose primary purpose was to keep the starting pitcher in the game.

The demand for power is, by the charts included with Eddy's piece, most pronounced in the middle infield.

Power is such an important component of today’s game that a scout recently told Baseball America that he hesitates to recommend any player for whom he cannot project at least fringe-average power. That’s a 45 on the 20-80 scouting scale, and it translates to roughly 10 to 12 home runs per season.
Consider the Twins projected lineup. We should expect a default outfield of Eddie Rosario (10 homers in 2016), Byron Buxton (10 homers) and Max Kepler (17), those HRs coming in partial seasons. The infield, with Brian Dozier untraded, would be Joe Mauer (11), Dozier (42), Miguel Sano (25) and unknown at short. Last year the position was essentially split three ways, and Eduardo Escobar, Eduardo Nunez and Jorge Polanco combined for 22 homers, 12 of them from the departed Nunez. Jason Castro (11 homers) figures to be the primary catcher.

There's not a position at which the Twins don't have that minimum 45 power from their projected starter. Of course, there are positions at which the Twins don't have a projected 45 fielding from their projected regular either.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Sunday Funnies

Ping Bodie, the subject of the one-liner cited in last week's post, was once asked what it was like being Babe Ruth's roommate on the road.

He replied: "I don't room with Ruth. I room with his suitcase."

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The non-roster invitees

The Twins on Friday named 16 non-roster invitees to spring training:

This is almost certainly not the final list. These 16, plus the 40 on the roster, would make 56 bodies in camp, and they generally have more than 60.

For one thing, there are only two catchers on this list (Eddie Rodriguez and Dan Rohlfing), plus three on the 40 (Jason Castro, John Ryan Murphy and Mitch Garver). They will want more than five catchers to handle all the bullpen sessions in the early days of camp.  I figure they'll sign at least one, maybe two, catchers off the minor league free agent list before camp starts.

There are, broadly speaking, two kinds of NRIs: minor-league free agents who are promised a camp invite but are viewed as organizational depth, and in-house players who aren't on the 40 but are of interest anyway. The second group is, to me, the more interesting.

That group this year is

  • RHP Jake Reed
  • RHP Aaron Slegers
  • RHP Alex Wimmers
  • LHS Stephen Gonsalves
  • IF Niko Goodrum
  • IF Nick Gordon
Wimmers ended 2016 on the active roster and was outrighted but remained with the organization. He, Slegers and Goodrum all went through the Rule 5 draft unclaimed. Reed, I think, was eligible for Rule 5 also but didn't get picked. Gordon and Gonsalves are two of the organization's top prospects but didn't need to be protected this winter.

The invitation to Goodrum interests me, partly because a few years ago I thought he was the most likely shortstop candidate in the system at the time. And almost immediately after that the Twins started playing him all over the infield and using Jorge Polanco heavily at shortstop.

Today there's no clear favorite to be the regular shortstop in 2017. The Twins had three different players serve as the "regular" at the position at different times last year, and two of them -- Eduardo Escobar and Polanco -- remain. But Polanco is a poor defensive shortstop, and there remains a reluctance to commit to Escobar.

I don't think either NRI infielder, Goodrum or Gordon, is likely to emerge with the job, or even a roster spot. But they will be in camp, and there is an open job -- and a significant one at that.

Friday, January 6, 2017

RIP, Superman Pennington

Art Pennington during a pregame ceremony
before a minor league game in Cedar Rapids
in 2012. Photo by Linda Vanderwerf
Art Pennington, who had to have been one of our last links to the long-defunct Negro Leagues, died this week in his adoptive home town of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He was 93.

"Superman" never got to play in the majors, and his official stat line is emphatically incomplete, but he was an outstanding player anyway. I highly recommend this on-line piece from the Hall of Fame on Pennington, his baseball career and his times. And the obit from the Cedar Rapids newspaper, linked to in the first paragraph, as well.

My wife and I saw Pennington throwing out a first pitch at a Kernels game in 2012, something he did frequently. It pleases me that the Kernels embraced him. The Negro Leagues are a fascinating and complex piece of history -- not just baseball history, but that of this nation's society and economics, a piece of history that deserves our memory and respect.

It's quite likely that there are a few people left to played in the old segregated leagues, but there can't be many, and I doubt that any of the survivors were as good as Superman Pennington.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Joe Mauer and catching comps

When I visit player pages on Baseball Reference, I frequently check the similarity scores down near the bottom of the page. Similarity scores are a Bill James invention, a formula that starts at 1,000 and subtracts for statistical differences and includes a positional adjustment.

Because of the positional adjustment, the closest comps are generally players of similar position. Example: Greg Gagne, the shortstop of the 1987 and 1991 World Series winners. His 10 best comps are eight shortstops and two second basemen, including two of his predecessors as Minnesota's shortstops (Leo Cardenas and Zoilo Versalles). His closest comp is Mike Bordick, whose career overlapped with Gagne's. Bordick's closest comp is Gagne, and his top 10 includes five of Gagne's top 10.

Anyway: When I was doing last week's series of posts about catchers on the Hall of Fame ballot, I glanced at the similarity scores for those guys.

Jorge Posada's list is topped by five catchers, starting with Lance Parrish and including a pair of Hall of Famers (Gabby Hartnett and Gary Carter). Then come four middle infielders (one in the Hall), followed by another HoF backstop (Bill Dickey). None of them, by the way, is a particularly close match for Posada (860 is the top score); James has said that that is often the case for a Hall of Fame caliber player.

Ivan Rodriguez's list is headed by Pudge 1.0, Carlton Fisk, and includes three other catchers (Ted Simmons, Carter and Yogi Berra). Fisk's score is 818, which isn't very comparable at all. Pudge 2.0 was a unique player.

Jason Varitek's best comps are all catchers, and the first nine are more comparable to him than anybody is to Posada. None of Varitek's comps are in Cooperstown.

A.J. Pierzynski has six catchers and four middle infielders in his comps. Two Hall of Famers, as I mentioned in an earlier post.

And Joe Mauer has ZERO catchers in his comp list. No. 1 is Dustin Pedroia. The next two are Hall of Fame shortstops, Lou Bordreau and Travis Jackson. Then come a bunch of infielders whose scores are rather distant.

(Pedroia's best comp is Mauer, followed by a bunch of second basemen.)

It's really odd to see a catcher with no catchers in his comp list. But as I've said often, Mauer is a historically unique figure. The catcher I've long thought of as the Mauer prototype is Mickey Cochrane, Hall of Fame catcher of the 1920s-30s. Mauer is No. 5 on Cocharne's list, which contains nine catchers and Boudreau (four Hall of Famers in all, plus Mauer and Yadier Molina). But nobody scores particularly close to Black Mike either.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Shuffling the minor league managers

The Twins had a opening in their minor league managerial crew. They filled it in a striking way.

  • Mike Quade remains the manager at Triple A Rochester.
  • Jake Mauer moves from Low A Cedar Rapids to Double A Chatanooga.
  • Doug Mientkiewicz moves down a rung, from Chattanooga to High-A Fort Myers, which was vacated by the elevation of Jeff Smith to the major league staff.
  • Tommy Watkins was named manager of Low A Cedar Rapids.
I doubt Mientkiewicz was "demoted." I expect that he preferred to be in Fort Myers.

This is actually the second time in three years that the Twins Double-A manager went down a step. Smith made the same move. As I recall, he asked to be assigned to Fort Myers, closer to his Florida home and family. And I wouldn't be surprised if Mientkiewicz did the same this year.

I don't know how the money differs, but since Baseball Reference says Mientkiewicz made more than $13 million in his playing career, the money may not matter that much to him. Smith didn't play in the majors, so he didn't have that cushion, but he apparently made that choice anyway.

Watkins has been a coach at various levels since ending his playing career, and I am among those pleased to see him get the managerial nob at CR. "The Mayor of Fort Myers" is a popular guy in the Twins organization.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Dozier market

It's January. Brian Dozier has not yet been traded. It seems increasingly plausible that he won't be traded.

On the surface, Dozier should be excellent trade bait. He's durable; he's good enough afield to stick at second base; he hits for power (41 homers last year, an average of 27.74 the past four years). He's drawn as many as 89 walks in a season. He has a good percentage as a base stealer. He has two years left on a below-market contract.

 And yet there does not appear to be a clamor to acquire him. The Dodgers are really the only team being plausibly rumored, and without any genuine competition to make the deal, they are presumably lowballing the Twins.

So ... why isn't there more interest in Dozier?

Age. Dozier turns 30 in May. Teams are much more aware today than they were 10 or even five years ago of how much that matters.

Peak performance. Forty-one homers for a second baseman is awesome, but nobody should bet on him replicating that. Twenty-five to 30, yes -- not to dismiss 25 dingers from a keystoner, but that's not 40. Team aren't valuing Dozier as a 40-homer guy, and shouldn't.

"Motivated seller." The Twins lost 103 games last year with really lousy numbers from the pitching staff. They have, in Jorge Polanco, a reasonable alternative to Dozier at second base (and as with Dozier, Polanco lacks the throwing arm to be a good major league shortstop). The perception is that the Twins "need" to trade Dozier.

"Unmotivated buyers." The teams that have quality pitching prospects in bulk are not -- with the exception of the Dodgers -- in the market for a win-now second baseman. There are certainly contenders that could use Dozier. but they don't have the arms to give up for him. There are teams with deep farm systems, but they either have second base locked up or aren't in contention mode yet.

There have been some remarkable prospect hauls in trades this winter. The White Sox pried a lot of talent from the Red Sox and Nationals in the Chris Sale and Adam Eaton deals. The Twins may well be using those trades as their benchmark for moving Dozier. That may be the correct approach, but it may be too high a standard to get a deal done this winter.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Hall of Fame thoughts: Selig and the steroid players

The deadline has passed for the writers to turn in their Hall of Fame ballots, but I'll keep writing about the Hall because

  • the Twins haven't given me a reason to change topics
  • I have more to say and
  • it's my blog and you can't stop me.

Yes, but ... a fairly vocal contingent of writers have for years been calling for the Hall to provide explicit guidance on steroid users and steroid suspects. Ignore the topic or bar the door? The Hall has declined to do so. The long time sentence in the voting rules remains:

Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

For many of the electorate, the words "integity" and "character" justify passing over the likes of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and other suspected or acknowledged steroid users. Others don't, particularly of those who were (or may have) used in the no-test era. The people who run the Hall of Fame have left that decision up to the voters.

But those same people have a heavy thumb on the Veterans Committee scale. The ever-changing rules and composition of the panels make that entry to enshrinement much easier to manipulate. Marvin Miller, for example, isn't in because the various panels given the task of judging him over the years have always been loaded with enough management figures to ensure that the union boss wasn't going to slip in. (The commissioner's office doesn't directly run the Hall, but the Hall likes to be liked by the commissioner's office.)

And the Veterans Committee in recent years has seen fit to slide two notable steroid enablers and beneficiaries, Selig and Tony LaRussa, in.

That's not an explicit endorsement of steroid users, but it's an implicit one. Had the Hall wanted to demonstrate a hard line on PEDs. it could have set up those panels accordingly. It didn't.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Sunday Funnies

This line, composed by Arthur "Bugs" Baer, was famous enough to get the humorist a three-year contract from newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst.

When Yankees outfielder Ping Bodie was thrown out trying to steal second, Baer wrote:

"He had larceny in his heart, but his feet were honest."